Chamberlain High School in Tampa will retire its “Chiefs” mascot, despite emotional testimony from alumni and an online petition that gathered more than 6,000 signatures.
By a 5-1 vote, the Hillsborough County School Board on Tuesday sided with the school’s Student Government Association, which recommended the change after consulting with Native American parents who called for the change and alumni leaders who opposed it.
The student leaders also surveyed staff and students. Those who responded supported the change, the student leaders said, although critics noted that they did not capture a majority in their responses.
School board member Melissa Snively cast the dissenting vote on Tuesday. Stacy Hahn, the seventh board member, was not at the meeting.
“I understand that this is very painful for a lot of adults,” board member Jessica Vaughn said. “And I have tried to be very empathetic about that, even though I’ve seen some horrific comments on social media and I’ve heard some very disappointing comments coming out of the audience today.”
Most speakers in the audience recounted their memories of their time at Chamberlain, their pride in local leaders who attended the school and their position that the term “chief” was not insulting, but rather one that conveys honor and respect.
Principal Jake Russell, however, said he never felt comfortable dressing in costume and taking part in game day rituals after he arrived at the school in 2017.
Members of the parent advisory group worked with the school to eliminate practices that were offensive and make sure the depictions of Native culture were accurate and respectful.
But even with those modifications, Russell said, “that didn’t feel comfortable to me as a principal, either.”
Some of the alumni pleaded their case to board member Henry Washington, a one-time principal of Chamberlain. Betty Sue White Brown, a member of the school’s inaugural class in 1958, reminded Washington that he had once been Chamberlain’s “high chief.”
But Washington introduced the motion to change the mascot and told the board and audience “it’s time for a change.”
Tuesday’s vote affects only one Hillsborough school with a Native American mascot. The second, East Bay, has the moniker “Indians.” District leaders used the same decision-making process in East Bay that they used at Chamberlain, but the East Bay students did not recommend a change.